Biblical Archaeology Review 23:5, September/October 1997

Will the Real Josephus Please Stand Up?

By Steve Mason

What went through the mind of Flavius Josephus as he stepped through his doorway into the brilliant sunshine of the Roman summer in 75 C.E.? Now 38 years old, he was beginning to write The Jewish War—a history of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–74 C.E.). A year earlier, the last rebels had been vanquished at Masada. In 70 C.E., Roman legions had burned Josephus’s home city, Jerusalem, along with the magnificent Temple where he had occasionally served as priest. It was only six years since his namesake, Titus Flavius Vespasianus (Vespasian), had seized ultimate control of the Roman Empire.

Immediately following the war, captured Judeans had flooded the slave market. Vespasian had issued a commemorative coin series proclaiming “Judea Captive!” He and his son Titus (who later succeeded Vespasian as emperor) had marched through the streets of Rome in spectacular triumph, surrounded by symbols of Josephus’s defeated homeland. Perhaps Josephus even witnessed mob reprisals against his compatriots living in Rome, such as those that occurred in other Mediterranean centers.1 In any event, it cannot have been the best of times to be a Judean in Rome.

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